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Friday
May132011

A question of balance

As the weeks pass, it feels like I'm getting more and more different chunks of stuff to be working on. I've got the game project to write code for. Then there's the reading for the DPhil. And the writing of some sort of literature review. And the game project website, and (although guiltily this keeps getting shunted to last on the list) the research group website. On top of that there's the task of doing the whole 'raising my profile as a researcher' - which this blog is now forming a part of, and finding the right conferences to aim to attend, discovering the interesting people in my area, working out what 'my area' is, etc, etc!

I am finding that it is difficult to work out a priority. The project obviously has the big external pressures, and correspondingly it has clearly defined tasks and obvious milestones and progress indicators. This makes it temptingly easy to spend a large proportion of time on. There's a whole raft of tasks, each of which can be satisfyingly ticked off as complete when I've done them and shown off to other people. 

In contrast, the work on the DPhil is nebulous. It takes as long as I have to give it. The more I read, the more there is to read. There is a lack of feedback that I have completed tasks, and the tasks sometimes don't really feel like they are achieving much. Still, it's easy to spend all my time on the reading at the expense of the game project.

If I favour any one thing, I end up feeling rather guilty about the lack of progress on the others. For example, this week I've been working on the project website (although it still isn't up - I need to chase people again for webspace), so I haven't been working on the game code. Since I finished the website, I've been trying to get on with some reading and writing up what I've read. I've also thrown in a bit of blogging, thinking about the conference I'm going to in July (my first academic conference!), and today I've been to a lab meeting (with an interesting presentation by one of our research group) and a presentation by a visiting academic. Most of that has next to no visible outcome, so I feel like I haven't really achieved very much this week and I'm feeling a little guilty about that. 

One of the books I've been reading (and I think I have at least three work-related books on the go - another source of guilt!) is 'Reality is broken' by Jane McGonigal. She lists feedback as an important part of any satisfying process, and while I'm not sure I agree with gamification as a concept I think that is an important observation. I think I'm going to try to make myself some feedback systems - not points or prizes or anything, more a list of what I've done. I don't want it to take too long to do (and I don't think I want to go as far as a time-sheet), so I'm going to try breaking down the DPhil tasks and keeping a tally of them each week. I'm also going to ask my partner to kindly listen to me give a summary of what I've done each week, and maybe make appropriately encouraging noises. 

It may not make me a better time-keeper, or help me prioritise the work any more easily, but it might just take away that feeling of not really having done anything or getting anywhere. Worth a shot, I reckon!

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